The Doctor and Peri have been on holiday, visiting old friend Reverend Foxwell in the sleepy English village of Hollowdean. But why are their memories so hazy?
Piecing together events, they recall a mysterious chauffeur, who is not what he seems, and Foxwell’s experiments that could alter reality. Huge sand creatures have been sighted on the dunes, and many of the locals are devoted to a leader known as “Professor Stream”.
But who is Stream? And what lies within the Hollows of Time?
The Doctor will discover that not every question has a definitive answer…
The Hollows of Time is, like most Christopher H Bidmead’s stories, complicated and densely populated and potentially ill-suited for adaptation to audio as it is incredibly visual in nature. The problem with this is that deprived of visuals as a medium, it does become almost deadly dull in places and I found myself struggling to care what happened towards the end of the story.
It is difficult to know where to start with this story, but I will say that this story would probably have worked well on television, especially when considering the cliffhanger to Part One, which sees the Doctor falling out of a Citroen into seemingly nothing, a door handle his only hope of salvation. Bidmead loves throwing technobabble at the audience, and was in favour of Doctor Who being much more science than fantasy focused, with some mixed results at times during the eighties, but here it feels like an overload and the author trying to prove that he is more intelligent than the listener. Despite this, there are glaring holes, some of which I will address below when I come to talk about Professor Stream, but it infuriates me that there is no explanation given as to why the Doctor and Peri’s memories are so foggy and means that the story is unsatisfying. It does have a feeling of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the narrative, including the Doctor and Peri moving backwards along their own timeline, but none of it works as well as it should have done. Producer David Richardson speaks in the behind the scenes feature about how Bidmead wanted the story to stretch what could be done with special effects on television when this was originally intended for television, however, this does mean that the narration is necessary, which really disrupts the pace. All this being said, the audio landscape is great, especially when the Doctor and Peri arrive and in the time tunnel and I think John Ainsworth has done a good job of directing a pretty dense and difficult script.
Despite the Doctor’s best beliefs, the central villain is not “Steel Specs” but Professor Stream, written here into having been an acquaintance of Reverend Foxwell from his days at Bletchley Park, however, in Bidmead’s script, Stream would have turned out to be a disguised Master. During production of this story, Big Finish were told that they could not use the Master in this story, presumably due to this story being produced in 2009 when the main show was bringing back John Simm for David Tennant’s regeneration story. This does beg the question as to why Big Finish didn’t think about delaying production of this story until they could record the story as Bidmead originally intended it? More recently, Big Finish have got around the passing of Anthony Ainley by bringing in other actors and characters to play vessels under this Master’s control, for instance Kamelion in Masterful and Chris Finney in The End of the Line, so something like this would have potentially worked here too. Although the adaptation changes slightly how Stream is involved, it does ask a lot of questions that it never deigns to answer, for instance, how Stream knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord, and also how he is able to control the TARDIS. David Garfield is certainly playing Stream, knowingly or not, with similarities to incarnations of the Master, so it would not have been too much of a stretch to just throw a passing wink that it could be him and the Doctor just didn’t realise. I suppose the fact that the “Streamers” and Jane have fallen in thrall to him is as far as they were willing to go. Otherwise, the adaptation could change to feature another rogue Time Lord – the Monk, perhaps – and work somewhat better than this halfway house that really pleases nobody.
I will admit that I have not seen Frontios at the time of writing this review, so I came to this as unexperienced as to the nature of the Tractators, and left this story with no stronger impression of them. Having done some digging and seen some of the positive comments about Frontios, and indeed the Tractators, themselves, the consensus seems to be that this is a disappointing return for them. The Gravis, the Tractators’ leader does not even speak, which in an audio drama is a bit of a problem, and the fact that the story chooses to have the Doctor and Peri narrate their discussion rather than let us hear it is a weird decision. I guess that I will go into Frontios with high hopes that they do more there than they do here, as they’ve not exactly enthralled me here.
Another positive are the performances of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as the Doctor and Peri, whose relationship gets better developed than on the television. Whilst having the linking narration might interrupt the flow of the story, it does allow us some nice moments with the two, and their relationship feels much warmer and amiable than it ever did in Season 22. Colin Baker states in the behind the scenes that the bickering relationship that was presented on television wasn’t what either he or Bryant wanted, and it wouldn’t be sustainable for this relationship to have continued in this way on audio. Sadly, Peri is written as spending a lot of time following Simon, which does sideline her a little for the story’s run time, but the scenes where Baker and Bryant are together are elevated greatly. Simon, played by Susan Sheridan, is well enough played, but written very much in the same vein as Adric and so suffers accordingly. I wrote last week about how Lon in Snakedance could have fallen into this trap as well but is saved by Martin Clunes’ charm – sadly the same can’t be said for Simon. All the guest cast try their best here, but they are let down by a poor story, and the standout is probably Reverend Foxwell, who manages to convey a long standing friendship with the Doctor well and is generally affable as the scientifically minded vicar.
Verdict: A script full of technobabble that even the cast didn’t seem to fully understand is always going to struggle. The Hollows of Time is well acted and directed but the story lets it down. 3/10
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), David Garfield (Professor Stream), Trevor Littledale (Reverend Foxwell), Susan Sheridan (Mrs Street/Simon), Hywel John (Steel Specs) & Victoria Finney (Jane).
Writer: Christopher H. Bidmead
Director: John Ainsworth
Behind the Scenes
- An unproduced serial which was cancelled to make way for The Trial of the Time Lord.
- The first appearance of the Tractators since their appearance in Frontios in any medium.
- In the original script, Professor Stream would have been revealed to be a disguised Master, but this had to be changed as Big Finish did not have the rights to use the Master at this time.
- David Garfield previously played Von Weich in The War Games and Neeva in The Face of Evil.
- Trevor Littledale has appeared in numerous Big Finish productions, including Flip-Flop and Summer.
We’re looking for a black cat in a coal cellar, Peri – I can’t catch it until I hear it purr.The Sixth Doctor
Previous Sixth Doctor Story: Leviathan
The Hollows of Time is available to purchase from the Big Finish website or to stream for free on Spotify.